As the year comes to a close and Christmas looms, the DVD releases drop from a flood to a trickle. At MSN I offer a capsule review of Salt (Sony), which is silly but a lot of fun (“The Manchurian Candidate meets The Bourne Identity only not as smart”) and I reviewed Fatih Akin’s lively Soul Kitchen (IFC) for Parallax View here, while I review the collections The Films of Rita Hayworth (Sony) and The Quintessential Guy Maddin! 5 Films From The Heart Of Winnipeg (Zeitgeist) on Parallax View here. I pick out a few other highlights below.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Fox) – Oliver Stone catches up with financial pirate Gordon Gekko (once again played with oily charm by Michael Douglas) in the wake of his prison sentence and the recent Wall Street meltdown for a surprisingly conventional sequel. Shia LaBeouf is Jake, the rising financial star caught up in his web despite the warning of his fiancée (Carey Mulligan), who also happens to be Gekko’s estranged daughter, and Josh Brolin is Bretton James, the new incarnation of Gekko’s philosophy in action. Stone uses a lot of visual effects to give some energy to a very conventional story, and he uses the story to make his pitch that the financial market as it is being run today is headed for ruin, all the while glossing over the root story of how using money as a weapon destroys everyone in range.
When Gekko says that he recognizes himself in Jake as he plots his revenge against Bretton James, he’s right. This kid has becomes a Gordon Gekko who justifies his actions because he’s an idealist (his pet project is a green energy company) and his target deserves it. But in fact, he is simply out to punish this guy the only way he can: destroy his career. The final few minutes of the film are an unconvincing wish fulfillment of a happy ending, almost cynically devised given that all these years later, Gordon hasn’t changed. He’s still a corporate pirate who treats his family the same as he does his marks and any suggestion of lessons learned and sins forgiven comes without any conviction. Given all that, however, it is great to see Douglas resurrect the Gekko command.
Director Oliver Stone provides a chatty commentary that ranges from the making of the film to the real-life Wall Street culture, and as usual he’s animated and entertaining and quite passionate about it all. The DVD includes a featurette on the cultural appeal of Gordon Gekko (more self-promotional than revealing) and the Blu-ray features a five-part documentary on the Wall Street culture and the film’s relationship to it, plus more promotional interviews, and a bonus digital copy.
“You think it’s easy being high strung?” Let It Rain (IFC) is the third directorial feature from actress/writer Agnes Jaoui, who collaborates with her husband, actor/writer Jean-Pierre Bacri. I like her films (The Taste of Others and Look at Me) and their screenplays for the way they embrace and acknowledge the vulnerabilities, the weaknesses, the flaws of their characters without trying to apologize for them, simply recognizing that they are part of the package. And while that’s definitely present in this drama of two buddies (Jean-Pierre Bacri and Jamel Debbouze) trying to make a documentary on a famous feminist author and journalist (Agnès Jaoui) making a run for politics, it lacks the gravitas and resonance of her previous films. For all the affairs, the jealousy, the self-involvement and the obliviousness of some characters, these are lives in lower case and for all her compassion, Jaoui doesn’t give us much reason to want to know them. The DVD features an hour-long behind-the-scenes documentary. French with English subtitles.
The supplement of the week belongs to Philip Noyce’s commentary track on Salt (Sony). Most commentary tracks discuss the making of the film in technical details or production stories. Noyce provides some of those (with guest appearances by members of his production crew) but is more interested in discussing the development and evolution of the project, his collaborative relationship with the filmmaking team and the research into real spy culture used to create this spy fantasy. It’s a refreshingly unique approach that offers a different perspective on the filmmaking process.
Also new on DVD this week: the high school “Scarlett Letter” comedy Easy A (Sony) with Emma Stone, the M. Night Shyamalan-produced Devil (Universal), Francois Ozon’s Angel (IFC) with Romola Garai and Michael Fassbender, Amos Gitai’s Disengagement (IFC) with Juliette Binoche, Isabel Coixet’s Map of the Sounds of Tokyo (IFC) with Rinko Kikuchi and Sergi Lopez and dance dance devolution Step Up 3 (Touchstone) (formerly Step Up 3D).